US in dialogue on visa fee hike

August 12th, 2010 - 11:54 am ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama By Arun Kumar
Washington, Aug 12 (IANS) Amid growing voices against a “discriminatory” US legislation to hike visa fees for highly skilled professionals, Washington began a dialogue with lawmakers, business and within the government on the issue.

“This is an issue that we’ve had conversations with leaders on the Hill about,” State Department spokesman Phillip J Crowley told reporters Wednesday when asked to comment on similar bills passed by both chambers of Congress.

“We’ve also had conversations across the government and we are listening to the concerns that business leaders have indicated and will be continuing our dialogue on this issue,” he said without indicating the Obama administration’s own take on the legislation.

Corporate America has slammed the bill to raise $600 million to secure the US-Mexico border with a steep hike in H-1B and L-1 visas fees for companies with less than half American employees, saying it would undermine burgeoning economic and strategic ties between the two countries.

“This legislation seeks to raise revenue for broader border security by taxing mostly Indian companies that are investing heavily in our country,” said US-India Business Council (USIBC) President Ron Somers.

The “discriminatory” bill against foreign companies would undermine investment relations with India as it would largely hurt Indian IT professionals coming to the US on H-1B and L-1 visas, Somers noted.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama continued his campaign against outsourcing as he signed into law an act that reduces or suspends tariffs paid by American companies on certain imports needed to manufacture their products.

“We will rebuild this economy stronger than before and at its heart will be three powerful words: ‘Made in America,’” he said at the White House signing ceremony for the Manufacturing Enhancement Act.

American manufacturing was badly hurt by the economic recession, but had been in decline before then, Obama said noting, “Companies learned to do more with less, and outsourced whatever they could.”

“Our economy has fallen into the habit of buying from overseas,” he said, noting a 33 percent drop in the US manufacturing workforce in recent decades. “It is vitally important that we reverse that trend.”

Steps like the bill he signed Wednesday will help US companies build competitive products for sale in foreign markets and allow the nation to meet his inauguration goal of doubling exports within five years, Obama said.

“When the playing field is even, American workers can compete with anybody,” he added.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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